Decision delayed on urn project

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 July, 2012, 12:00am


The Advisory Council on the Environment was unable to agree yesterday on whether to endorse a controversial columbarium project at an ecologically sensitive Sha Lo Tung site in Tai Po.

They want the developer to front up at the next meeting to address their concerns before making a final decision.

Sha Lo Tung Development wants to build a columbarium with 60,000 niches for funeral urns in four three-storey buildings, on four hectares of government-owned green-belt land south of the scenic valley. In return, it would establish a 52-hectare nature reserve.

Sha Lo Tung is ranked the second most important of 12 ecologically sensitive sites identified by the government in 2004 for public-private partnerships, under which a developer would build on part of the site and pay to preserve the rest.

The council, in a rare move, delayed its decision instead of taking a vote on whether to endorse or reject the project, which has the support of the council's own environmental impact assessment panel.

After a closed-door meeting, council chairman Professor Paul Lam Kwan-sing said: 'Council members are still unclear about the impact of the proposed development on the ecological system at the site.'

They want to ask the developer questions including whether a 'seasonal river' at the site - which dries up for part of the year - could be recognised as a river, and the project's impact on fireflies and other insects in the area.

Council member Edwin Lau Che-feng said he objected to the project and urged the government to instead conduct a land swap with the developer, allowing it to build the columbarium elsewhere. The developer indicated last month that it would be interested in such a deal.

Sha Lo Tung is the site of three abandoned villages and former farmland. It is home to 65 per cent of the dragonfly species and 35 per cent of the butterfly species in Hong Kong, and to many birds and freshwater fish.

Sha Lo Tung Development is working with environmental group Green Power on the plan.

A company spokesman said yesterday it would provide further information to address members' concerns. The 'seasonal river' was no longer within the revised project area but was added to the report by mistake.

In May, former Observatory director Lam Chiu-ying, an adviser to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying during his election campaign, said the rubbish and smoke from joss sticks at the columbarium, along with sewage, could seriously pollute the habitat.

Ten green groups also voiced their concerns. They said the government should do a land-swap deal.